Crossing the Mirage – Passing through Youth, Chapter 20
Continued from “Spurring on to Err”
That Sunday evening the Vasus called on the Chandras at the Honeycomb. What with Vasu’s presence embarrassing him, Chandra turned his attention on Prema only to be fascinated by her in turn. Seeing Chandra ungainly, Vasu readily turned his hopes on Nithya into wild daydreams. Prema, divining Vasu’s desire for Nithya from his body language, suspected that he was involving her only to pull the wool over Chandra’s eyes. And that made her turn her focus on Chandra. Hooked up as she was with her idea of revenge, Nithya insensibly turned her attention on Prema.
Discerning a feeling of discontent in Prema, while Nithya felt it augured well for her plan, the former thought Chandra’s manner suggested that he could be a much better man for his looks. And calling his wife’s bidding and goaded by his own inclination, Chandra began befriending Prema in all earnestness. So, Vasu who thought that he still had to contend with Nithya’s apathy felt bold to seek her out in the kitchen.
“It is ages since we were alone,” he said placing his hand on her shoulder. “Oh, how nice it feels.”
“It’s neither the right time,” she said, moving away from him, “nor the right place.”
“What did you do with my seed?” he said. “Did you allow it grow or not?”
“Do you want to dine on now” she said coquettishly, “or dig into the past?”
“I was worried to death that I might have lost you forever,” he said, and added, alluding to Chandra’s looks, “to some Prince Charming.”
“It’s not that everyone takes a woman to the dreamland.”
“Thanks for the compliment,” he said in excitement. “How sad I’ve lost my way to it.”
“Leaving me in the lurch that is!”
“I’m sorry really,” he said ardently. “Show me the way to redeem myself.”
“Why, haven’t you chosen it yourself,” she said coquettishly, “through the back door.”
“Glad the spark is intact.”
“But I don’t dream anymore.”
“Now we can begin all again, can’t we?”
“I’m too bogged down by reality.”
“I’ll give you the wings of love,” he said endearingly, “to fly with me into the orbit of ecstasy.”
“What if my hubby clips them,” she said seeming helpless, “and ruins it for us?”
“Why this pessimism,” he said trying to bring her back on the track, “when we can hope for a high fly?”
“Lest you should misunderstand that I gave you any hopes,” she said deviously, “know that I don't share your optimism.”
“Do you really need to?” he said flamboyantly. “Didn’t I tell you we’re natural lovers and won’t be able to resist each other?”
“It’s you who said that,” she said assuming a serious demeanor, “and I don’t remember to have subscribed to it.”
“Oh, in your resistance,” he said in a placating tone, “your look and tone seem even more enchanting.”
“Thank you,” she said flirtatiously.
“It’s my pleasure really.”
“Well, they could be looking for us,” she said moving away, “we better join them.”
“Your husband seems to have lost his eyes for my wife.”
“Are you jealous?”
“Don’t you think that makes it easier for us to pull the wool over his eyes?”
“I don’t know really,” she said feigning worry. “What if your wife comes to know?”
“I will tell you,” he said. “The world would have one more philosopher to contend with.”
“Like me, you mean.”
“Oh, don’t joke,” he said. “You’re too ardent for that.”
“What about her?”
“Didn’t I tell you,” he said placing his hand on her, “that she’s stoic at that?”
“Could she have loved and lost like me?”
“Maybe, who knows,” he said shrugging his shoulders, “but she’s a devoted spouse for all that.”
“But you want me to be an unfaithful one,” she said overtly flirting. “What double standards!”
“It’s just that our standard of love is different, that’s the difference.”
“Why are you being a liar?” she said mockingly. “Wasn’t it substandard when you preferred her to me?”
“Why rake up the past,” he said, clearly on the defensive, “when we’ve made up.”
“What if your wife puts her foot down?”
“Nothing matters to me now more than having you back,” he said turning hopeful. “Haven’t I told you, I live only in the hope of winning back your love?”
“If hopes are dupes, fears could be liars,” she said flirtatiously. “Who was that who said that, Wordsworth or Longfellow?”
“For me it’s the quote from you that matters,” he said cheerfully. “Let’s join them.”
Shortly after they returned to the drawing room, the maid came with Vasavi. While that unexpected development left the Chandras nonplussed, Vasu wondered whether it could be his child after all. Earlier, to keep Vasavi out of the act, Nithya had packed off the kid to the Pearl House.
“When she didn’t stop crying, peddamma asked me to take her home,” said the maid to Nithya’s questioning looks.
“Oh, is she your daughter?” said Prema to Nithya, taking Vasavi into her lap. “She looks so cute, like you.”
“Thank you,” said Nithya.
“How old is she?” continued Prema.
While Vasu waited for her reply in anticipation, Nithya made Vasavi seem younger by three months. Thereafter, they all had a heck of a time, pepped up by Vasavi’s pranks and a sumptuous meal that jelled.
When the Vasus hit the road, having invited the Chandras for a return dinner, Prema found Vasu was in high spirits.
“Didn’t we have a good time?” said Vasu to Prema.
“Well, after a long time,” she said and added thoughtfully, “really they’re fine people.”
“Don’t you think he’s a little odd looking?”
“Only at first sight,” she said and added appreciatively, “but you’ll begin liking him once you’ve interacted with him.”
“What of Nithya?”
“It’s the question I better asked you,” she said dryly. “Weren’t you hanging around her all the time?”
“You know we knew each other before,” he said taking cover. “Don’t you think there would be common topics to talk about?”
“I felt you were at courting her.”
“It’s all in your head, that’s all,” he said and asked as though for a cue to Vasavi’s paternity. “How do you find the kid?”
“Why, it's so apparent,” she said, “that she's taken after her mother,”
“I too felt so,” he said still doubtful about its paternity.
‘It’s clear, he has designs on Nithya,’ Prema found herself contemplating on the way. ‘But why is she trying to appear friendly with him if not overtly flirting! Where went all that indifference! What has brought about this change in her? It’s apparent they were close before, possibly, he could’ve jilted her and married me for money, and now he seems all too eager to curry her favor. Is he blackmailing her by any chance? Oh, is he not capable of that, as he suffers from no qualms whatsoever? Won’t I know about the hole in his soul?”
What with that thought putting her on a stream of consciousness, she began looking at Vasu, who was at the steering. When he looked at her, he was perturbed by her stare and avoided it all the way.
‘Nithya was lucky to have married Chandra,’ Prema thought as she turned her focus away from herself. ‘Surely, he’s a gentleman and seems broad-minded and well-bred. Clearly he’s knowledgeable and mature as well. What's more, he seems to be a good-natured man and an understanding husband. Won’t Nithya be aware of his qualities, she being sensible herself. Would she ever think in terms of deceiving such a man! Why, it’s worth watching.’
When the guests departed, the hosts exchanged notes.
Chandra said that he found Prema interesting, though a little bit intriguing. Likewise, though friendly by nature, he thought, she was reserved by disposition. She had a warm heart and a cool head as he saw it. That she had ideas of her own became apparent to him from her articulation. His reading of her was that, she had a practical outlook about human frailties. However, she seemed unforgiving when it came to meanness in man. Her only fault, he felt, lay in her fatalistic approach to life.
“The poor thing, what a devil she married,” said Nithya with empathy. “Ironically her pop’s riches have undone her. If not for her, perhaps, condemned by fate, I would’ve been his wife. If only we can make life easier for her!”
The interaction of the couples, over the next six months, was on the expected lines with a welcome exception. Insensibly drawn by their mutual empathy, the women came to love and admire each other and that irked Vasu, who was getting despaired by Nithya’s obduracy. Adding to his discomfiture and to the delight of Nithya, Chandra and Prema were into a platonic friendship. Though completely foxed by the developments, Vasu sensed the evolving equation would bring in diminishing returns for him. Besides, having a strong suit in hand, it made no sense to him to prolong the game any longer. So he decided to call Nithya to account.
“How long would you have to make me wait?” Vasu confronted Nithya, one evening.
“What’s the point rushing in prematurely?” said Nithya calmly. “Don’t you see we’re laying the ground?”
“I think the time is ripe now for seeding it,” he said impatiently. “Hasn’t Chandra got used to our closeness?”
“That’s true, but…”
“You’ve got to take the plunge some time or the other.” he said cajolingly. “And I can’t let you dilly-dally forever. You know I’m at the end of my tether already.”
“You should be a woman to know what it all boils down to,” she said persuasively. “We should wait for an opportune moment for that.”
“I'll create one,” he said determinedly. “Look, I would make it seem as if I’m on tour for ten days but would be back after five. I’ll call you up from the Ritz then and I don’t think it would be difficult for you to spend some daytime with me on those days.”
“In a hotel?” she feigned apprehension, “mad or what!”
“Where else then,” he said in irritation, “in my dreams?”
“Well that’s the hitch,” she sighed, “though I’m inclined.”
“Why not I remove the hitch,” he said meaningfully. “What if I let Chandra know about your past? Knowing our present closeness, can’t he put two and two together? Well, that might lead to a few hiccups, but won’t that help remove the hitch forever?”
“Are you blackmailing me?”
“You can take it whatever way,” he said menacingly. “If you don’t come, I may conclude you’re only flirting with me.”
“What do you mean?”
“It’s time to act,” he said to smother her further, “for both of us, one way or the other.”
“You’re making me helpless,” said Nithya thoughtfully.
“I will sound you about my program,” said Vasu, as he left.
When Vasu informed Nithya about his itinerary shortly thereafter, she decided it was time for the final act.